As a young pastor in my first church, I remember making a difficult phone call. I called the Dean of Theology at the seminary I recently graduated from and admitted, “I don’t know what I am doing!”
I had been called to be the pastor of a core group that had recently failed in their efforts at church planting. We were going to make a go at RE:planting this failed church. The church was beginning to grow. We grew from a handful of people past the 100 barrier pretty quickly and ministry got chaotic fast.
I quickly realized I did not know how to give the church the direction it needed. My admission was an honest confession, but it was met with a stunning response. “We really don’t offer leadership skills training for pastors. You will have to find that somewhere else.” Later the president of that same seminary confessed to me, “I don’t believe in leadership training, you are either anointed by God to lead or you are not.” For 25 years I have listened to pastors struggle to find the leadership help we all needed but we did not learn in seminary. Most pastors will admit the single most frustrating struggle they faced in ministry was, “I was ask to do a job I was never trained to do.” Many pastors have even left the ministry as they faced this frustration.
Before we are too hard on our beloved seminaries we have to realize that the seminary is not equipped to deal with the real-life leadership challenges churches face. One of the reasons is most seminary professors are biblical scholars who can prepare pastors for the elder role they are ask to fulfill in their teaching and preaching. Most seminary professors are also caring people who can train pastors for the shepherding role they play. But most seminary professors are not natural leaders or gifted spiritual leaders nor are they skilled adequately in the realities of vision casting, culture development, strategy and the other necessary leadership skills to lead a church. Most seminaries are just not the crucible of the real world where pastors serve as spiritual leaders for a complex organism like the body of Christ.
Since the day of my confession, I have made many mistakes in turning to the wrong places to find help for my leadership struggles. I have turned to denominational leaders who blogged or gave podcasts about leadership “philosophy.” I have turned to charismatic leaders who seem to be a leader and I tried to emulate them. I have borrowed from the business world principles that helped me in my times of crisis. But honestly, I was always left wanting in all three of these efforts usually because their solutions were more charisma based and not competency based.
Yet, what I have discovered is that the Bible is filled with rich insights regarding the MOST UNDERDEVELOPED aspect of pastoral ministry in the church today – THE OVERSEER.
The key that unlocked church leadership mystery for me was one of the biblical labels given to pastors by both Peter and Paul in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5. It is the importance of the role of the Overseer (επιτηρητής), and I was surprised when I learned Jesus was labeled an “Overseer” (1 Peter 2.25). What I discovered was a typology that caused me to look into the OT to discover who else the Bible labeled an overseer. I also wanted to understand what the role of the overseer entailed. Here is what I found.
The word Overseer is used in the stories of three OT characters: Joseph, Josiah, and Nehemiah. Joseph is the overseer in Potiphar’s home and the overseer of Egypt. Josiah recognized the strategic need for overseers to revitalize the work of the temple. And Nehemiah when he is preparing to leave Jerusalem realizes he needs to appoint overseers over Jerusalem to establish a culture that could sustain Jerusalem into the future. Each of these overseer types teach important “skills” related to leading in the spiritual arena. Here are three specific skills unpacked regarding an effective overseer. These are skills every local church pastor must have in their tool kits just like they need to tools of preaching and pastoring.
Joseph’s story reveals he was a God gifted vision caster. The problem was he kept abusing the vision casting process early in his life, just ask his brothers and even his mother! However, after God emptied Joseph of himself, God was able to use Joseph to cast two visions that saved Israel and Egypt. His vision casting skills should be emulated by pastors today.
Josiah’s story reveals the importance of strategy. Josiah was young but he envisioned a revitalized Israel, so he set in place a four part strategy to lead Israel back to a holy relationship with God. When pastors are developing their church’s strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission, Josiah is a perfect and biblical example.
Nehemiah’s story reveals the importance of being a culture curator. Nehemiah had been the overseer of Israel during the rebuilding of Israel, but as he prepared to return to Susa, he was concerned about what would happen to Israel after he left. So, he appointed overseers to help establish and maintain the culture he had worked so hard to achieve. This way Jerusalem could be sustained beyond his lifetime.
This is a brief and surface level look at the typology of the overseer. It is the foundation in the OT for what we are taught about the overseer in the NT. These skills are essential skills every pastor needs to faithfully execute the ministry of the church. Three skills: vision caster, strategist, and culture developer. Three things every pastor has wrestled with in the context of the local church. Three things that today are preventing most churches from participating in the Great Commission. Three things keeping pastors from stewarding their church’s ministry and resources well. Three things most of you were never taught in seminary, but wish you were.
Don’t let anyone tell you like they told me that “You are either a leader or you are not.” This places an artificial lid on your ministry that is NOT biblical. When the Bible describes leadership Charisma is not at the top of the list. As a matter of fact is most often shunned. Character and competence are most often pointed to when it comes to good biblical leadership (i.e. David lead Israel with skillfulness of hand and integrity of heart). Leadership is essential, and you don’t have to borrow it from the world. It is all right there in the Bible. You don’t have to doubt it and your people won’t resist it, when they see it clearly in God’s Word. Let us help you learn the skill sets of biblical leadership that can help your church fulfill its God-given mission. Visit our team at www.corpusvitae.org